Alabama landfill fires caused headaches anxiety, fear, and a'smell goes with me everywhere I go'

Headaches. Coughing. Eyes are red. Breathing issues. Air purifiers that run all the time and the smell that won’t disappear.

For the past 53 days , and beyond, such events have been the reality for hundreds of Alabama residents who live near an underground fire in the northwestern edge of a landfill Birmingham and there is no end to be seen.

A few people living near the flame have retreated from the fire. Some have purchased several air purifiers, and closed their homes to external air sources as far as they can.

Jennifer Lewis moved into a house located on Blackjack Road last February with her husband Michael who is a firefighter for Birmingham Fire and Rescue -and the four kids they have. They had purchased 11 acres and built their dream house at the top on a hill, in the rural St. Clair County.

Then, Lewis says that dream has become nightmare.

[embedded content]

“Every person living in my home suffers from health issues as a result of the above,” she said. “Cough and a runny nose. We’ve experienced nosebleeds, painful throats, burning throats, headaches.

“I’ve been suffering from headaches every day since this began. Every single day at noon, the headache gets worse. I could even set a timer with it.”

The fire at the landfill was first reported on November. 25 in the unincorporated St. Clair County, located between Trussville and Moody. Birmingham suburbs Moody as well as Trussville. The fire is mainly underground at a dump owned through Environmental Landfill, Inc.

Legally the landfill was meant to accept green waste such as fallen leaves, trees, brush or other vegetative materials They did indeed take some of it. The area of fire is believed to be about 100 feet deep in some places.

However, residents and officials who are part of officials from Alabama Department of Environmental Management have documented illegal waste such as appliances, tires and construction materials which has caused many to be wondering what exactly is going on in the underground blaze.

ADEM has committed to investigating the possibility of illegally dumping on the property after the fire has been put out. St. Clair County officials have declared an “state of emergency” and said the area could turn into the scene of crime. For now, information are difficult to find for the people who live near the flames.

The Lewis house is just two miles away from the flames. Some live even closer.


“I have a strong odor of smoke”

On the opposite part of the site, around one mile from the blaze Margarette Armstrong lives with her granddaughter Brice in a single-story home built in 1930. It was constructed before all the other structures in the region. The retired lady lives a lot of time in the home.

“The first day, and for the next few days I was covered in the ashes everywhere on my truck , as well as everything else,” Margarette Armstrong said.

Her daughter Brice 24, is a professional singer and worries what the effects of smoking on her voice. She is also worried about effects on her grandmother’s health and the other elderly residents of the region.

“The smell is really awful,” Brice said. “People say that my smell is like cigarettes and they think I’m smoking cigarettes or something.

“The smell is everywhere you go.”

The home smells of smoke and Margarette is worried about the furniture that will forever smell that way, and this is especially true for the new sofa.

“I’m concerned about everything that is that’s in the house including the furniture. The smoke smell is present in furnishings,” Margarette said. “It can be into your clothing. People go to places and say it smells like smoking.”

Smoke can cause harm for couches and people regardless of what’s burning particularly prolonged exposure. It is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declares that particulate matter caused by smoke may cause irritation to eyes the throat, nose, and eyes; coughing, phlegm; chest tightness and breath shortness.

These symptoms may be more severe for those with health issues, such as heart disease or lung disease as well as those with a history of chronic illness. Older people and children in the early years are especially susceptible.

Off the charts

Most air quality monitors are able to measure particles in the air which is how many tiny pieces of dust are present in the air that might get caught up in your lungs.

On the scale of color-coded, readings from 0-50 are colored green which is considered acceptable, and pose minimal or any risk. The readings that range from 51 to 100 are within the yellow range , where groups with sensitivity may be affected. 151-200 is a red color for health issues, and individuals from the general population might be affected.

Readings in the 201-300 range are considered as very unhealthful or purple which increases the risk for all. Over 301 falls into the red or dangerous category, in which “everyone is more susceptible to being affected.”

It is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency employs this scale to assess the amount of particulate matter that is polluting the atmosphere. EPA

Technically speaking, it is true that the U.S. Air Quality Index can be increased to 500. Readings of air quality that exceed 500 are sometimes described being “beyond that AQI,” and the agency warns that air pollution can be hazardous in these conditions, and that “Everyone must take action to minimize the risk of exposure to particles when levels are within the range of.”

The readings from air quality monitors that are located near the fire can vary dependent on conditions in the weather and the direction the smoke is headed however, there have been many maroon readings within the vicinity and some readings that are over 500 points on the AQI scale.

The Birmingham-based group for air quality GASP has set up the basic monitors of air quality in the vicinity of the flames in private homes within the vicinity which includes Lewis’s home. Lewis home. Advanced air quality monitors were set up at the request of EPA in the site of the landfill last week, however the information from the monitors needs to be examined in a lab and isn’t yet accessible.

For certain people smokers, the smoke is too excessive.

100 yards away

The Rev. Richard Harp and his family reside at one of homes close to the underground fire. The roof of his house can be seen in many of the video footage taken by drones of the fire.

Harp is currently a minister of his church, the Deerfoot Church of Christ, however, he served as a firefighter three years prior to that. Harp estimates that his backyard is 100 yards from the fire break which is where firefighters took over the land to prevent the flame from spreading.

He claimed he was forced to leave that home after a doctor confirmed that he was suffering from smoke inhalation because of worry about his loved ones.

“My children, they’ve been coughing for a while and I’m feeling awful as a parent but what should I take?” Harp said. “We’ve made every effort and we’ve locked them into their bedroom at night, and they are sleeping in their room with an air purifier.

“We’ve completed everything we could however, we reached the point that we could not remain.”

They’ve moved to and Airbnb during the January month, at their own cost. The owner isn’t sure what they’ll do next.

“We’ve covered the remainder of of January covered, however I took advantage of my credit card” Harp said. “When do you plan to budget to cover this?”

Window seals must be sealed.

Robin Andrews lives a little further from The Carrington Lakes neighborhood. Her husband and she are both retired and spend most of the time in the home. They’re surviving using a mix of air purifiers at home and painters’ adhesive to cover their windows as well as all but one door to their home.

“We’ve been trying to solve the problem but it took us several days to figure out the best way to proceed,” she said.

There were instances that Andrews claimed she had put her head on when she wanted to fall asleep. She worries about the impact on her health as well as her grandchildren, who visit every now and then.

And at times, they need to leave.

“I was thinking about it the other day,” she said. “I thought”Well you know, maybe we can think of something we’d like to purchase in Costco this morning, then then go towards Hoover.”

The massive Shark model air purifier that they purchased for the living room provides a reading of air quality as well as Andrews claimed that closing the windows and doors was a way to eventually get the unit to 100 percent air quality.

A Facebook group dedicated to residents who were affected by the fire’s destruction has emerged and now has over 4,400 members. Some of them do not reside in the immediate proximity of the landfill however, many do.

The group has proven to be a useful resource for those struggling to manage the fire. Users have shared advice and details about the top filters for your home, the most recent air quality tests as well as the most recent news from local and national officials from the government.

There are even a couple of sets of songs that parody lyrics concerning the fire. One of them is in reference to the Bob Seger song “You’ll Accompany Me” referring to the smoke. The another parody turns the Eagles classic into “Hotel Can’t-Buy-You.”

Andrews posted pictures of readings that were given to the group following sealing the doors . He also urged others to follow suit.

“I do not normally put things on my blog, but I try to avoid it,” Andrews said. “But I did post about taping windows as I thought that If someone can’t have the money to buy an air purifier perhaps they could get a roll or two of painter’s tape.”

Who can solve it?

The residents dealing with the fire will need to deal with the fire for a few more days at the very minimum.

St. Clair County has received numerous bids from companies that are experts in these types of fires, to extinguish the flame. They’re expected deliver an array of suggestions to the governor outlining several alternatives.

The majority of the bids that submitted by the county suggest that it could take 30 days to bring the smoke and fire under control, probably through the use of a fire-fighting foam and digging up the hotspots that are burning in the surface.

The smoke is expected to envelop St. Clair and Jefferson Counties.

“It’s really frustrating to know that my family and I breathe these things in each and every morning,” Lewis said. “And we don’t even know what it means in the future. We don’t know the kind of toxic substances we’re taking into. In 20 years’ time after my daughter turns 28 what’s going to be the outcome for her? Are there any negative effects on her health as a result of this?

“It’s extremely frustrating. I’m a mother bear, so when issues begin to affect my family, my children’s health, I’m going to be vocal.”